Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World 1917-1924

by Charles Emmerson
Public Affairs, 2019
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

Benito Mussolini and His Pet Lion, 1924

Neither the Armistice nor the Treaty of Versailles restored the peace that had existed before the Great War. They were merely measuring lines on the beaker in which a new world was brewing. Crucible is a series of hundreds of snippets occurring between 1917 and 1924 that follow the people who would play roles in that new world.

The personalities are drawn from politics, the arts, and the sciences. Many are well known: Russians, Vladimir Lenin (the impatient revolutionary), Josef Stalin (the Georgian bank robber), Leon Trotsky (the principled non-tipper); Italians Gabriele D'Annunzio and Benito Mussolini; Turks Ismael Enver Pasha and Mustafa Kemal; Germans Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler; Winston Churchill and his cousin sculptor Claire Sheridan; scientists Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud; Emperor Charles of Austria; Black activists William Du Bois and Marcus Garvey; Irish nationalists and rivals Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera; Ernest Hemingway, and a host of others.

Each reader can pick the saga that most appeals to him or her and which whets the appetite for more. My favorite is the wrenching struggle for independence that the Irish fought against the Empire and amongst themselves. What is often thought of as a simple case of Irish versus British is shown as an international and intramural blood contest over the definitions of independence, plus the achievable and available means that fueled the flames of personal rivalries, splitting Ireland's leaders and tearing its land asunder.

I found the style of jumping from one incident to another to be unusual, but not too difficult to follow. When one thinks of it, life evolves as a series of seemingly unrelated incidents reported in our daily papers or conversations, not in a concentrated story line of a history or biography.

Jim Gallen

1 comment:

  1. Your final paragraph was right on, Jim! And I ordered the book, it arrived, and I think it's one of the biggest tomes I have, but I'm looking forward to jumping into it on a regular basis.